What responsibilities does an employer have to employees
indefinitely furloughed during COVID-19?
- If the employees are not receiving paychecks at all, then the employer’s responsibility is reviewing the employee’s application for unemployment benefits and completing the employer documentation to ensure the timely release of payments.
- Unlike a layoff, a furlough suggests that if work is available the employer can call employees in to work. The employee’s unemployment benefits will be reduced based on each state’s rules for paying partial or no benefits during a period where a furloughed employee earned wages.
- During a furlough, the employer generally keeps up with health benefits though the extent can vary depending on state rules. A laid-off employee is not eligible for health benefits except under COBRA or arrangement with the carrier because of the ACA rules regarding full time employment.
How can employers connect their employees to resources
(financial and otherwise) to help support them during this time?
- Encourage employees to contact banks, student loan holders, and credit card companies where they hold mortgages or credit accounts to ask for forbearance on their payments during the furlough. Phone companies, internet suppliers, and utilities companies may also be providing assistance in paying monthly charges on essential services.
- Non-profit credit counselors are typically in every region in the US and it’s territories. These companies help individuals by contacting creditors if the employees do not get results on their own.
- If the company has suspended healthcare benefits, encourage employees to check pharmaceutical websites for brand name drug discounts and explore drug discounts on GoodRx.com and WellRx.com and others. Provide employees with telemedicine options and make sure they have all information from the carriers regarding any special provisions or services for laid-off or furloughed members.
- Compile a list of community services and make it available to employees.
How should employers remain in touch with employees during an
- Suggest the HR department or supervisors invite employees to connect virtually on a totally volunteer basis (or the connection will be considered “work”). This will support the company’s culture and keep employees who you’d like to retain engaged.
- Although the pandemic has seen an unprecedented exchange of health information between employees and employers, remember to follow HIPAA rules for confidentiality when reaching out in a conferencing group and discussing the health and well-being of co-workers.
When a furlough is coming to an end, how should an employer
ease the transition back into the workplace for employees?
- Company leadership or owners should articulate the company’s objectives – what’s the most important thing when transitioning? For example: serving customers or clients, staffing critical departments, creating an outreach campaign to the market, etc. Share the objectives with supervisors and direct them to make staffing decisions based on the objectives. Then share the objectives with all staff so they understand the reasons behind calling in some staff while holding off on others.
- To provide a sense of safety and wellness, define the social distancing and other protocols the company will continue to practice and ensure people are trained before they come back to work.
- Decide whether the company will allow employees who do not feel safe enough to come back to work to continue unemployment benefits past their call-back date and apply the decision equally.